LOS ANGELES ANGELS (11-12)
at NEW YORK YANKEES (14-10)
First pitch: Sunday, 8:00 p.m. ET
The Angels try to hand Masahiro Tanaka his first career loss when they finish up a three-game set with a rubber match versus the Yankees on Sunday night.
Los Angeles is coming off a solid series win over Washington to even its record to 3-3 on a nine-game road trip that ends in the Bronx. The Angels plated 15 runs in the three contests against a Nationals’ club that sports one of the better pitching staffs in the game. Albert Pujols (.284 BA) hit his 500th career home run Tuesday and enters Friday with an MLB-leading eight homers. The Yankees come into the series after defeating the Red Sox for the fifth time in seven tries and they outscored their rivals 24-13 in the recent three-game set. Thursday night, New York put up 14 runs on 14 hits against Boston, as OF Jacoby Ellsbury was 3-for-6 with two doubles and 3 RB in the game, and 5-for-15 in the series against his former team. Ellsbury enters this series leading the Yankees in average (.337), runs (13) and stolen bases (8). Taking the mound for the visiting Angels in this contest will be RHP Garrett Richards (2-0, 2.52 ERA) who has pitched very well early on this season. Opposing him for the Yanks will be RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3-0, 2.15 ERA) as he looks to continue to dominate the majors in his first year in the league. New York has done very well at home coming into this series with a 6-3 record while the Los Angeles has been one of the better road teams, compiling a 7-5 record coming into the series. From 2011-2013, the Yankees were the better club in this matchup, going 14-11 against the Angels, including an impressive 9-4 at home.
Garrett Richards has mostly been a spot starter and reliever over the past couple of seasons for Los Angeles, and has not posted an ERA better than 4.15. He has improved in each successive year though, and has limited opponents to one or fewer runs in three of his four starts this season. He did really well against a potent Nationals offense on Monday, throwing six innings and giving up just one run on a single hit while getting six strikeouts to combat his four walks. Richards has struggled mightily with his control in 2014, walking 5.0 batters per nine innings over 24 IP but has not allowed a home run. He’s pitched in three games (2 starts) against the Yankees in his career, going 0-2 with a poor 5.14 ERA -- but strong 1.14 WHIP -- while striking out just five hitters in 14 frames of work. He has also given up three home runs in that time, but none of the players who hit them are still on New York’s roster, while utility infielder Kelly Johnson has gone 2-for-3 against him with a double and a triple. Others on the Yankees have not fared as well, with SS Derek Jeter, OF Carlos Beltran, OF Brett Gardner, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, 1B Mark Teixeira and DH Alfonso Soriano combining to go 1-for-18 with four strikeouts in the matchup. Coming into this series, the Angels bullpen has been very shaky with a 3-4 record and 5.06 ERA (1.53 WHIP) while saving just two games in six opportunities. Current closer Ernesto Frieri (9.35 ERA, 2 saves) allowed four runs in the ninth on Wednesday against the Nationals, blowing his second save of the year, and could soon lose his ninth-inning role as he has allowed five home runs in just 8.2 innings this year.
Masahiro Tanaka has baffled hitters in his debut season with a late-dropping splitter and a fastball that tops out at 95 mph. He’s already struck out 35 batters with just two walks in his first 29.1 innings on the mound while having at least seven K’s in each of his four outings. His one weakness has been giving up home runs as he has now surrendered four taters on the season. Tanaka gave up two of those long-balls in his last start when facing the Red Sox, as David Ortiz and Mike Napoli went back-to-back on him, but that was all he really gave up in his 7.1 innings of work where he allowed only two runs on seven hits with zero walks and seven strikeouts. As a fly-ball pitcher, Tanaka will need to be careful against this Angels club that has seven different players with at least two home runs, including Pujols (8) and OF Mike Trout (5). Speaking of Trout, the 22-year-old has continued to be one of the top players in the league, entering Friday with a .315 BA, 5 HR and 14 RBI despite an uncharacteristically high 26.5% strikeout rate on the season thus far. On the other hand, two offseason acquisitions, 3B David Freese and OF Raul Ibanez, have combined to go just 19-for-129 (.147) so far this year. A couple of innings have blown up New York's bullpen ERA to 4.28 through Thursday, but the relievers have gone 8-for-10 in save opportunities. Closer David Robertson (0.00 ERA, 2 saves) has only one strikeout in his first four innings on the mound, but is 2-for-2 in save chances and is a welcome sight back on the roster after a short DL stint due to a strained groin.